A food literacy survey by Dalhousie University showed that fewer Canadians learned a new recipe during the pandemic than expected.
A total of 10,004 Canadians were surveyed in January 2021 to see how food-related habits have changed in the last year, and whether Canadians were more or less “food literate” than before the pandemic.
“Food literacy is understanding the impact of one’s food choices on one’s health, the environment, and our economy,” read the survey report by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University.
This literacy includes knowledge of nutrition, skills, confidence and food decisions.
Learning new recipes
The survey found that before the pandemic, 56.6 per cent of Canadians knew at least seven recipes. That number has increased to 62.1 per cent in January.
The average Canadian now knows 6.7 recipes, compared to 6.2 recipes pre-pandemic. The report says researchers found the results surprising.
“Given how more domesticated Canadians have become, we were expecting that ratio to be much higher,” the report said.
Nova Scotians were slightly less likely to learn a new recipe throughout the pandemic.
The average Nova Scotian knew 7.7 recipes pre-pandemic and now they know 7.5.
“We were expecting a major shift,” the director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, Sylvain Charlebois, told Global News.
“For the last 11 months we’ve been talking about cooking, people spending more time in the kitchen.”
Charlebois says at best, Canadians have slightly improved their food literacy this year.
The numbers also significantly vary depending on age, with boomers knowing the most recipes, 7.6, but also showing the lowest increase (0.2).
Millennials across the country showed the highest increase, knowing an average of 4.9 recipes pre-pandemic and 6 recipes post-pandemic.
Gen Z followed with a 0.9 point increase, now knowing an average of 5.6 recipes.
“Essentially, the pandemic has enticed younger generations to learn more recipes, more so than older generations,” the report read.
On average, 35.5 per cent of Canadians learned a new recipe.
The report notes that economic status is an unsurprising determinant of food literacy. The lower-than-expected increase in recipes learned can be explained by the higher financial strain of Canadians during the pandemic, as well as its impact on mental health.
“Canadians earning more than $75,000 a year tend to know more recipes than people with a lower income,” the report said.
Those making under that amount know 5.6 recipes on average, while those earning more know 7.1.
“People tend to teach themselves new recipes,” the report read.
Since the start of the pandemic, 38 per cent of Canadians have taught a new recipe to a household member, and 37 per cent of Canadians have designed a new recipe for themselves.
In addition, the report says 48 per cent of Canadians have used an ingredient in their cooking that they’ve never used before the pandemic. For most, it was a new spice.
A total of 67.5 per cent of Canadians have tried new spices, followed by vegetables at 36.9 per cent, and oils at 27.9 per cent.
However, the report says many Canadians still struggle with meal management for themselves or their households. “Only 37.5% of Canadians believe that their ability to manage meals throughout the day has improved during the pandemic.”
Same goes for snacks — 31.5 per cent said their ability to prepare snacks has improved.
The survey also looked at gardening, another aspect of food literacy.
“Canadians are clearly embracing their time at home to vertically integrate and produce more food at home,” the report said.
Fifty-one per cent of Canadians say they have grown produce, such as fruits and vegetables, at home in 2020. An additional seven per cent say they intend to grow food at home in 2021.
The pandemic has had a significant impact on Canadians’ mental health, which can have an impact on food-related habits.
Global News has reached out to Nova Scotia Health and will update this article with comments from a mental health specialist.